The third preseason game for most NFL teams is traditionally considered the dress rehearsal for the regular season, but the Cincinnati Bengals were still holding back some of their cards this week.
Joe Mixon didn’t play in the Bengals’ 25-23 loss to the Giants on Thursday night at Paul Brown Stadium, and new coach Zac Taylor still hasn’t shown what his full offense could look like when the running game gets going.
The passing game was once again on display, this time with three of the quarterbacks. The Bengals had a chance to tie it late in the fourth quarter after undrafted free agent Jake Dolegala connected with Josh Malone for a touchdown, but the two-point conversion failed.
Here are five takeaways from the game:
1. Dalton’s best performance
The offense took a couple drives to get into a rhythm, but the third possession for Andy Dalton was about as smooth as it could have been. He completed five straight passes to finish off a scoring drive for a 7-3 lead late in the first quarter, hooking up with C.J. Uzomah on a 26-yard touchdown.
That ended the day for the first-team offense, as Ryan Finley took over for the better part of the next two quarters. Dalton finished with 104 yards and one touchdown on 7-of-10 passing.
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“We were headed in the right direction on those (first) two drives, but third downs killed us,” Taylor said. “It was good on the third drive — we finally made some plays and overcame some of that stuff. It was great to see C.J. (Uzomah) get rewarded on that big play. It was a great throw and catch by those two (Dalton and Uzomah).”
2. Offensive line decided?
Taylor said earlier this week that whoever started Thursday would have a good chance of being in the starting lineup for the season opener. If that ends up being the case for the offensive line, aside from Andre Smith filling in for Cordy Glenn (concussion) at left tackle, that means rookie and former Ohio State center/guard Michael Jordan could be the new left guard.
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Billy Price was back at center to open the game after swapping roles with Trey Hopkins the last couple weeks, and the right side remained the same as usual with Bobby Hart at right tackle and John Miller at right guard.
Dalton didn’t get sacked behind that protection. It was the next groups that struggled , as Finley was sacked three times .
3. Nice recovery
Third-year defensive end Carl Lawson and rookie running back Rodney Anderson made their preseason debuts after coming back from ACL tears, and both were impressive.
Lawson has been practicing and ready to go for a while now, but the Bengals stuck with the plan to hold him back until the third preseason game and it was like they had unleashed a beast. Lawson was aggressive in shoving aside linemen and getting to the quarterback, including a sack-fumble on Daniel Jones that he celebrated with the enthusiasm expected of someone who hadn’t played since October. He played 11 snaps Thursday.
“It felt good (to be on the field),” Lawson said. “Like I’ve said, there are steps to the process. In the offseason, I was re-evaluating my game, taking in and putting in the practice, and then I noticed everything about my game I needed to change and fix. It showed up in practice, and the final step was putting it (into action) in a game, and now my confidence is sky high to continue on that path. There’s a lot of stuff I still need to work on, but I’m excited my hard work is starting to pay off.”
Rookie running back Rodney Anderson tested out his knee right away when he came on for his NFL debut just two weeks after he was cleared to practice. He hadn’t played a game since last September but on his first touch, a 12-yard catch, he made a cut that showed his knees are just fine. Anderson was elusive in the passing game and finished with four catches for 51 yards, but rushed for just seven yards on eight carries as part of a running game that accomplished very little overall.
“He’s a tough runner who’s hard to take down on first contact,” Taylor said. “So those are the things that show when he got put out in space, one on one with somebody — good luck to you, especially if you’re a skill guy on defense.”
4. First-team defense errors
The Giants put in their second-team offense before the Bengals switched to their second-team defense and managed to score on a play where William Jackson got caught turned around in coverage and not looking for the ball.
The result was a big pass play to put the Giants on the 1-yard line, and they scored soon after that to take a 10-7 lead in the second quarter. The defense looked solid when Geno Atkins and Lawson were in together, but the secondary and linebackers still have plenty of room for improvement.
“They (the first-team defense) gave up a couple of big plays,” Taylor said. “We just have to fit them up a little better on the perimeter. But, overall, I thought those guys fought well. Their run game didn’t really get going. I know there were some chunks in the pass game. But, overall, I thought they responded well.”
5. Vanilla for now
The Bengals finished with 29 yards rushing on 16 carries, and some of that likely was the impact of not using Mixon. However, Taylor is clearly holding back a big part of his offense as Mixon and Giovani Bernard have seen very limited time this preseason. He said he’s excited to see it all come together in a couple of weeks.
“I look around the league in the preseason, and I love watching every offense that has played a preseason game so far,” Taylor said. “There’s not a lot of rushing games getting off the ground right now. I think that’s a product of everyone following the same plan so far. It’ll really be exciting to show what we’re really capable of.”
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